Christmas pain

Well, this is the last newsletter of the year. We hope that you have a happy and successful Christmas holiday and thank you all for your great replies. We in the southern hemisphere now try and take a few weeks holiday, but still persisting with our snow covered Christmas cards, seemingly oblivious to global warming.

Can Christmas hurt?
Can this annual humanly constructed event actually change our physiology? And from what we have been teaching at NOI, especially with the notions of the brain representing our bodies, what is the cumulative effect of all those cues such as carols, men in red, presents, eating too much, ho-ho-ing everywhere, tacky tinsel, and candles?

Here are a few thoughts on pain and stress at Christmas…
The perils of Christmas in the UK: Last year in the UK, hospitals reported 4 broken arms after cracker pulling accidents and five people were injured in accidents involving out of control Scalextric cars.

Be also aware that three people die each year testing if a 9v battery works on their tongue and that nineteen people have died in the last 3 years believing that Christmas decorations were chocolate.

In 1998, eighteen people had serious burns trying on a new jumper with a lit cigarette in their mouth and even more scary, thirty-one people have died since 1996 by watering their Christmas tree while the fairy lights were plugged in… if there was ever a good excuse for a fake tree – that might be it (

Parental loss of Santa pain
Children usually discover the myth of Santa Claus at around 7 years and are usually quite positive about the finding. However, parents are usually very sad in reaction to their child’s discovery. (Anderson CJ, Prentice MN  Child Psychiatr Hum 1994 25: 67). I guess this is just about parents growing up too.

Christmas eye
In Australia, there is a rare syndrome known as ‘Christmas Eye’. It is thought to be due to activity of a mite which is only active in December and it seems it is associated with higher altitudes. Keep an eye out for this little fellow if you are downunder in December.

The neuroscience of pain at Christmas
But Christmas surely hurts many people more than the injuries in the physical domain mentioned above.

Christmas has to be the greatest memory sink of all time. Watch the widow, the widower, the one who has lost family or is just lost at Christmas. For many it is a ‘get through’ occasion which lasts too long and for which there are far too many cumulative cues (carols etc) which ignite and maintain levels of easily accessed sensitivity. And the sensitivity is maintained because it comes around at the same time every year without fail. ‘Neurones that fire together wire together’ (Hebb 1949) still provides our best understanding of memory retrieval.  Plus, the evidence for pain distress and social distress sharing common brain areas is growing (eg Eisenberger NI et al 2006 Pain 126: 132).

The Chistmas neurosignature and the pain neurosignature surely overlap (neurosignature = brain event space, which is a part of the neuromatrix or brain coding space). Key brain areas active in memory, planning, emotions and movements must be common to a Christmas experience and a pain experience in some people.

Simply the question “was Christmas OK?” might lead to a better understanding of ongoing pain and disability states.

Acute canine pancreatitis at Christmas
Last year my friend Jenny’s dog got up on the table and ate all the fat off the Christmas ham while no one was looking. She (the dog) got acute pancreatitis, had lots of pain and Jenny has the pain of a 2000 dollar vet bill. Keep your ham covered!!!

Wherever you are, we hope you can enjoy this time of year.

Your turn
Send in your most relevant ‘pain at Christmas’ story for the chance to win an Explain Pain audio CD pack.

Last month’s ‘Two pains at once…’
Here are all the great stories from last month’s contributors. Two pains at once sure doesn’t seem to be an alien experience…

We loved the dermatology and liver condition rendition from David in Canada but we found it tough to choose because the ‘Squash Bum’ from Sally in New Zealand came in top too.

Congratulations to both entrants, who will be sent a Pain Pack each.

Recognise updates
Anne Daly’s and Andrea Bialocerkowski’s recent systematic review suggests that graded motor imagery is currently the only evidence based physiotherapy treatment for CRPS1.

As the programme allows, we have updated Recognise™ Online with an extra 600 images of hands, feet, necks, shoulders and backs. With the programmes ability to automatically flip and/or rotate this allows for 4200 image possibilities so you will never take the same test twice.

Anderson CJ, Prentice MN  Child Psychiatr Hum 1994 25: 67

Eisenberger NI et al 2006 Pain 126: 132
Hebb, D. O. (1949). The Organization of Behaviour. New York, Wiley (Interscience).


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